In baseball, three strikes and you’re out. But in football, at least in the current context of the Braden River High program, three strikes keep you in the game, albeit with a warning.
“We’ve been, from my level and above my level,” Manatee County Director of Athletics Jason Montgomery said, “crystal clear with Braden River that the expectation is there is no issue (with) 100 percent compliance moving forward.
“We feel like at this point we’ve vetted everything that we’re aware of that was a potential issue. This type of stuff — ‘Oh, we didn’t know that rule thing’ — is not going to be tolerated.”
For violating rules concerning off-season conditioning and improperly using a Hudl account to access video of four Sarasota County football teams, Braden River did what it should have known not to do.
But the latest transgression, providing impermissible benefits to two student-athletes, highlighted the school not doing what it should have known to do.
The fallout really just affected one of the two players. Knowledge McDaniel, who played last season for the Pirates, has been ruled ineligible for a year. The other player, Deshaun Fenwick, graduated and is now at the University of South Carolina.
“If this was a non-student athlete and you heard the story from front to back,” Montgomery said, “it would be one of those feel-good stories where you’d say, ‘Wow, why don’t more families step up and do this type of thing for the kids?’ "
One family did, the one belonging to a teammate and friend of McDaniel. According to Montgomery, the family “has almost like an open-door policy.” It has taken in kids from other schools, he said, and not just Braden River.
The family brought McDaniel into their home, unaware his status as a student-athlete made it a no-no.
“There was a failure to educate boosters and parents on where that line was, on what they could and couldn’t do,” Montgomery said. “So there were some breakdowns on the Braden River end, but at the same time, this wasn’t the intent of this policy. The intent of this policy is where you have boosters giving benefits and money and things like that to student-athletes, or you have students living with a booster for the purpose of residency so they could play at that school, and this is clearly not a case of that. Our contention here is the family wasn’t aware that they were in violation of policy. The kid did nothing.”
So the onus is on Braden River?
“Absolutely. The way they were interpreting the policy, they felt like this wasn’t being done for athletic interest, which is the way the policy is kind of framed and I think they thought that put it outside of the scope of this. If I told you there’s a football player at XYZ school living with a booster, your mind goes in a million different places, if that’s all I tell you. When you dig into the story, it’s not at all what it was.”
If the school failed to let boosters and parents know what was allowable and what wasn’t, then it’s easy to see how it failed to file a hardship waiver with the FHSAA, which might have avoided this entire kerfuffle.
According to the FHSAA, schools have periods each year to submit hardship waivers for students in situations like McDaniel’s. It’s rare when the request isn’t rubber stamped.
“We never received any type of hardship waiver request from that school for that particular student,” FHSAA public relations specialist Kyle Niblett said. “But that’s the way that you would go about it legally without breaking any rules.”
Why Braden River didn’t submit a hardship waiver for McDaniel is the $64,000 question. Or at least $5,000, the amount the school was fined for the two violations.
Next up is the appeal, which Montgomery feels will result in the reinstatement of McDaniel’s eligibility.
“Yes, I feel very confident,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re all in this to do what’s in the best interests of the student. Mistakes by adults are costing a kid who has an opportunity to get out. An incredible opportunity to make a life and athletics is an important piece of that.”
As for Braden River, three strikes have placed the school on a short leash. Shorter than short.
Said Montgomery, “That’s a fair characterization.”